Saturday, May 10, 2008

Misery, Dance of the Red Skirts, Manitoba Theatre Centre's 50th, Judith Thompson, Damascus and Glory Days: A big, long sprawling theatre post

Two reviews of Toronto shows in today's Globe.

First is Misery, CanStage's production of Simon Moore's adaptation of the Stephen King novel. It gets 3 stars out of 4 and a defence of genre theatre from me:
When King won the National Book Foundation's award for lifetime achievement in 2003 - an award that had previously gone to John Updike, Arthur Miller, Philip Roth and Toni Morrison - literary critic Harold Bloom accused the jury of having "stooped terribly low." Many people may think the same thing of [Canadian Stage Company artistic director] Bragg for having programmed [Misery]. But relax, don't expect a masterpiece, and Misery is far from a miserable night out at the theatre.
Other critics were not so thrilled and chilled - The Star's Richard Ouzounian pulls out another one-star review, while The Sun's John Coulbourn goes for 2.5/5. In Eye, Christopher Hoile gives 2/5 stars and - shades of Bloom - calls the play's inclusion on the CanStage schedule "a sure sign of lowered artistic goals".

On Wednesday, there were two opening nights in Toronto: Theatre Columbus's Dance of the Red Skirts and, over at Factory Theatre's Performance Spring, Sexual Practices of the Japanese. First come, first served, so I went to Dance of the Red Skirts at the Tarragon Extra Space - a Theatre Columbus creative collection based on a painting by Paul Klee. Two stars from me:
While there are countless plays based on books, films or other plays, the list of plays based on paintings is short.

But it's impressive. Several of August Wilson's works, including his Pulitzer-winning The Piano Lesson, were inspired by Romare Bearden's collages, while A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by the French pointillist Georges Seurat was the source of Stephen Sondheim's musical Sunday in the Park with George. Caryl Churchill's Top Girls, currently being revived on Broadway, is not based on a painting, but it does include a character called Dull Gret who has charged out of a Pieter Brueghel painting that depicts Dulle Griet leading an army of peasant women through hell.

Theatre Columbus's meandering new play, Dance of the Red Skirts, is a new addition to this genre...
On the other hand, Susan Walker gives it 3/4 stars in The Star and some unbylined writer gives it 3/5 stars in Eye.

Completing my hat-trick of bylines in today's paper: A brief article about the Manitoba Theatre Centre's 50th anniversary homecoming weekend. I have great affection for MTC, which was the first regional theatre in Canada and the template for all that came after:
While the sheen has come off many of the regional theatres that were established [a decade after MTC] during Canada's centennial celebrations, the Manitoba Theatre Centre continues to thrive. Though located in the seventh biggest city in Canada, it is the third most-attended theatre in the country (after Shaw and Stratford). And while other theatres complain about a decline in subscription sales, MTC just clocked its biggest number of subscribers in its history.

"If the past is the best predictor of the future, then MTC's in for 50 great years ahead," says Steven Schipper, who has been artistic director at the Manitoba Theatre Centre since 1989.
So many of Canada's theatre greats have passed through MTC's doors - some while I was holding them open. I worked there for a season as doorman and part of the Front of House staff back when I did my Grade 12 in Winnipeg. Part of my job involved climbing the ladder to change the title of the show on the marquee, letter by letter. Yes, even during a Winnipeg February - so I'm glad that they have gone with an electronic marquee since.

But wait, there's more!

There's a lot of theatre stuff that happened this week that I didn't get a chance to blog about. So, in brief:

- Damascus, the Traverse Theatre production that had to postpone its opening night in Toronto, had to postpone its first preview in New York. What is it with cursed Scottish plays?

- James Bradshaw had a good, balanced article on Judith Thompson's new play written with "with a cast of 13 real women" in Toronto - commissioned and produced by Dove. I usually roll my eyes at the whole contrived debate over artists "selling out", but I must admit I felt a bit queasy when an invitation to "a new play by Dove" arrived on my desk. I'm sure it will be an affirming night at the theatre for its target market and I wouldn't discourage anyone from going (everyone involved seems quite sincere), but I'm not certain I should be reviewing ad campaigns, so I'm staying away.

- I love flop musicals. One of my most theatrical cherished memories is seeing Behind the Iron Mask on the West End:

GYPSY: He's the man with the mask!

MASK MAN: Don't ask! Don't ask!

Anyway, this week Glory Days - which apparently is a more noble flop - opened and closed on Broadway on the same night. As Mark Shenton notes, it "now has the rather dubious distinction of becoming the first new musical to shutter on its first night since Dance a Little Closer, Alan Jay Lerner’s final show, in 1983, that was quickly redubbed Close a Little Faster."

By coincidence, I was reading about Dance a Little Closer on Monday while researching my piece on the Manitoba Theatre Centre's 50th. That's because, Len Cariou - Winnipeg's one and only Tony winner and former artistic director of MTC - was the star of Dance a Little Closer, which happened to coincide with MTC's 25th anniversary. Last October, the Winnipeg Free Press's Kevin Prokosh wrote an article reviewing the story (sorry, no link):
[Then artistic director] Richard Ouzounian had built MTC's 25th season around Cariou playing the title role of Shakespeare's brokeback king Richard III. It was a big deal that a bit of Broadway was coming to Winnipeg in the form of Cariou, who had won a 1979 best actor Tony for his portrayal of the demon barber in the Stephen Sondheim musical Sweeney Todd.

The only caveat standing in the way was if Broadway came calling again. It did, and Cariou bailed to head the cast of Alan Jay Lerner's Dance a Little Closer, which opened May 11, 1983. It closed May 11, 1983.

It was one and done.

"Obviously, I should have come here and one Richard III," Cariou [says now]. "I still haven't done Richard III."
Yes, that's right. For those of you keeping track of this now epic blog post, the Toronto Star's current critic was once artistic director of MTC. And the critic of The Globe and Mail, me, was once the doorman. I kind of like that.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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